Posted: Wed March 13, 2013 12:05PM; Updated: Wed March 13, 2013 5:13PM
Chris Mannix
Chris Mannix>INSIDE THE NBA

NBA Big Board 5.0

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Marcus Smart's stock continue to skyrocket
Scouts are enamored with Marcus Smart's size (6-foot-4), first step and poise relative to his age.
Sue Ogrocki/AP

It's March, which means it's the time of year for huge upsets, exciting finishes and would-be NBA players to improve their draft stock. Year after year, the NCAA tournament is a proving ground for NBA prospects, with the likes of Dwyane Wade (2003), Tyrus Thomas ('06) and Gordon Hayward ('10) using strong tournaments to move up in the draft.

A convincing performance this March could send a player's stock soaring. While Kansas's Ben McLemore is establishing himself as a close-to-consensus No. 1 pick, many lottery spots are up for grabs. A superior Big Dance could be the difference between a spot in the late lottery and a top-five pick.

On to the Big Board ...

Chris Mannix's NBA Draft Big Board
1
Ben McLemore
Kansas, Freshman
6-5, 195
SG
Most executives who have been following him -- and that list covers any team that thinks it will have a mathematical chance to land a top-three pick -- see McLemore as a rock-solid starting shooting guard, and the freshman has done little to dissuade that opinion. He put up a season-high 36 points (knocking down 5-of-6 three-pointers) against West Virginia and followed it up with 23 in a disappointing loss to Baylor two games later. With protypical size, strength and shooting stroke, McLemore is being referred to by more than one executive as "can't miss."
 
2
Nerlens Noel
Kentucky, Freshman
6-10, 228
PF/C
The belief is that one size-starved team -- Washington, Cleveland and New Orleans among them -- won't let Noel get by it, even with an ACL injury that will likely cost him most of next season. "He's an NBA-ready defensive center," a Western Conference general manager said. "He's got skills you can't teach. There's too much uncertainty at the top of the draft to pass him up."
 
3
Marcus Smart
Oklahoma State, Freshman
6-4, 225
PG/SG
Smart's stock continues to skyrocket: He scored 20-plus points in back-to-back games last week, including a 21-point, six-rebound, six-assist effort in a win over No. 9 Kansas State. Scouts love Smart's size and his first step, which should only improve as he gets older. That coach Travis Ford has handed so much offensive responsibility to Smart -- and that he makes decisions like a polished senior, not a raw freshman -- has also impressed NBA executives.
 
4
Anthony Bennett
UNLV, Freshman
6-8, 240
PF
Bennett's production has tailed off since tweaking his shoulder -- he has just one double-digit scoring game in his last five -- but that has done little to change scouts' opinions that the Rebels' freshman will be an impact player. More and more scouts are projecting Bennett to play small forward. "He plays like a power forward," a Western Conference GM said. "The rebounding, the physical play. But he's quicker than he looks and can handle the ball a little. He will need some work, but he can get there."
 
5
Otto Porter
Georgetown, Sophomore
6-8, 205
SF
First, the obvious: Porter has played very well lately, causing his stock to soar in the last month. He's a polished player with a nice mid-range game who attacks the glass and has, said one Eastern Conference executive, "a high skill level everywhere." Still, some scouts wonder if Porter is just a great college player. "He doesn't have a separation move," the exec said. "I'm scared he could turn out to be Wesley Johnson."
 
6
Shabazz Muhammad
UCLA, Freshman
6-6, 225
SF
Muhammad's NBA-ready body continues to appeal to scouts, who envision him developing into a Paul Pierce- or a Rudy Gay-type small forward. Muhammad can score -- albeit almost exclusively going left -- but some scouts have questioned his quickness defensively and how he will deal with savvier defenders in the NBA. "He can power past anyone," an Eastern Conference GM said. "But what happens when a Paul George or a Kawhi Leonard is in front of him? He has a lot of developing to do."
 
7
Victor Oladipo
Indiana, Junior
6-5, 214
SG
Dick Vitale compared Oladipo to Michael Jordan in his days at North Carolina. NBA executives aren't ready to go that far, but many are beginning to believe in the Hoosiers' guard as a top-10 pick. Oladipo is a spectacular athlete who can finish anywhere near the rim. Though not a consistent threat from beyond the arc, Oladipo's three-point shooting has improved significantly in his junior season, jumping from 20.8 percent to 46.4 percent.
 
8
Alex Len
Maryland, Sophomore
7-1, 225
C
Len has cooled off lately, scoring in double figures in just three of his last eight games. Still, he continues to collect seven to 10 rebounds per game, and his size and willingness to mix it up in the paint will keep him in the top 10.
 
9
Isiah Austin
Baylor, Freshman
7-1, 220
PF/C
Austin is a tantalizing talent, a 7-foot-1 center with a fluid shooting stroke, but the more scouts see him, the more holes they are finding in his game. Austin's lack of strength remains a concern. "He gets pushed around sometimes," an Eastern Conference executive said. "I have a hard time seeing him being effective in the post." With his size, teams would like to see bigger rebounding numbers, too. It hasn't helped that Baylor is in a free fall, losing five of its last six before upsetting Kansas last weekend.
 
10
Cody Zeller
Indiana, Sophomore
7-0, 240
PF/C
Let's be blunt: Teams are scared of Zeller. "He has that great college player, lesser NBA player look to him," a Western Conference GM said. Zeller is an excellent mid-range shooter with underrated athleticism that should make him a decent NBA defender. But general managers continue to bring up the short wingspan (6-8, according to DraftExpress) and the lack of a separation move that will make it difficult for Zeller to create his own shot.
 
11
Michael Carter-Williams
Syracuse, Sophomore
6-6, 185
PG
Carter-Williams' assist numbers have dipped recently -- he hasn't had more than six in his last five games and has had just one double-digit dime night since early January -- but his size and natural playmaking instincts draw comparisons to a healthy Shaun Livingston, convincing GMs that he can be an NBA starter. "You can polish his jump shot and work on his handle," an Eastern Conference assistant GM said. "But the way he sees the floor and the way he can create in transition are rare."
 
12
Rudy Gobert
France, 20 years old
7-1, 235
C
Gobert is viewed as a project, but with a 7-9 wingspan, there is tons of potential. Gobert runs the floor well and has natural defensive instincts. "He might not play much his first couple of years," an Eastern Conference executive said. "But those physical tools -- it's going to be hard to let him slip too far."
 
13
Dario Saric
Croatia, 18 years old
6-10, 223
SF/PF
Another likely project, Saric draws comparisons to Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari as a smooth-passing big man who has a surprisingly polished mid-range game. Saric has power forward size but most scouts agree his future is at small forward, where his passing ability can be used in a point-forward role.
 
14
Trey Burke
Michigan, Sophomore
6-0, 190
PG
The Big Ten Player of the Year closed the regular season with 20-point performances in five of his last six games while continuing to prove he can excel in a pick-and-roll-heavy offense. Short(ish) point guards tend to slip into the late teens/early 20s (see Ty Lawson, Jameer Nelson, Darren Collison) but Burke, perhaps as much as any other player, can significantly improve his stock with a big tournament. "If he plays well in March, he could jump into the top 10," a Western Conference GM said.
 
15
Alex Poythress
Kentucky, Freshman
6-7, 239
SF/PF
Few players have disappointed NBA scouts as much as Poythress, whose strengths (scoring in the paint, offensive rebounding) and weaknesses (poor ball handling, inconsistent perimeter shooting) are the same today as they were at the start of the season. In the absence of Noel, Poythress' scoring actually dipped: He scored in double digits just twice since Noel suffered a torn ACL. Poythress projects as a small forward in the NBA but has yet to show consistent wing skills, a major issue for teams evaluating him.
 
16
Mason Plumlee
Duke, Senior
6-10, 235
PF
It's been a strong senior season for Plumlee, who impressed scouts with a nice face-up game to go along with superior athleticism and solid rebounding. Most scouts agree that Plumlee doesn't have the upside of Noel, Len or Austin, but few doubt he will be, at the very least, a capable backup.
 
17
Gary Harris
Michigan State, Freshman
6-4, 205
SG
The Big Ten Freshman of the Year is a strong, physical shooting guard who has showcased a nice three-point touch, shooting 41.9 percent on nearly five attempts per game. Harris is raw, and some of his numbers (2.4 rebounds, 1.4 assists) aren't spectacular, though he battled shoulder and back issues for much of the last month. Harris could benefit from another year at Michigan State, but if he comes out, it's unlikely he slips past the top 20.
 
18
Kelly Olynyk
Gonzaga, Junior
7-0, 238
PF/C
What Olynyk lacks in muscle he makes up for with intelligence, positioning and one of the most complete offensive repertoires in college basketball. Two general managers expressed concerns about Olynyk's lack of athleticism -- he has more of an old-school, below-the-rim game -- and average rebounding numbers (7.2 per game), wondering if he will be able to match up physically with power forwards and centers in the NBA. "I love his game, but is it an NBA game?" an Eastern Conference executive said. "Look at our centers; he is going to have a hard time scoring against most of them."
 
19
James McAdoo
North Carolina, Sophomore
6-9, 230
PF
McAdoo has failed to live up to some lofty expectations this season, struggling with erratic field-goal shooting (44.8 percent), free-throw shooting (57.4 percent) and some sloppy play (2.7 turnovers per game), while failing to show a refined post game. McAdoo has superior athleticism and can finish at the rim as well as any power forward in college basketball, but the lack of growth in his sophomore season has led multiple NBA executives to suggest that he could benefit from another season at UNC.
 
20
Willie Cauley-Stein
Kentucky, Freshman
7-0, 244
PF/C
First the obvious: Cauley-Stein is extremely raw offensively, limited mostly to dunks and put-backs, with the occasional jump hook mixed in. But he is a monster athlete with natural shot-blocking instincts. In December, he appeared likely to stay at Kentucky. But the injury to Noel has given Cauley-Stein more opportunity, and he has delivered, averaging 10 points, eight rebounds, and 3.5 blocks since Noel went down. His offensive game needs polish, but that JaVale McGee-type athleticism would make him a nice fit for a team that can afford to let him learn from the bench for a year or two.
 
 
NBA Draft: Big board top prospects
Source: SI
SI.com's Chris Mannix breaks down the top prospects bound for the NBA Draft and says what they can do to improve their draft stock.
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